Sunday, 26 May 2013

Magic Menorca

May 8 -15, 2013

 Menorca is the eastern most of the Balearic Islands but is a very different world to its neighbouring islands. Strict building codes have prevented high rise development so unlike the Spanish coast, Mallorca and Ibiza, this island is not blighted by masses of ugly holiday apartment blocks and high rise resorts. As a result it doesn’t attract the type of tourists who look for that style of package holiday.  Menorca  has a very different atmosphere to the rest of the Balearics. You won’t find endless Irish Pubs full of drunken young Brits here. Rather the island trades on its strengths of natural beauty, incredibly well preserved history and the friendliness of the locals.

Located in the south east corner of the island, the capital city of Mahon is based around the outstanding natural harbour, Puerto de Mahon, and is an extremely pleasant and welcoming place to visit. The old town area features the usual defensive walls and fortifications. Its narrow streets and old buildings are fantastic to explore while the views down over the harbour are outstanding. We spent our first day wandering around enjoying the very well kept heritage on show and had an inexpensive but extremely nice lunch in an open air café lining one of the town’s many squares.

One of our larger neighbours in Mahon heading past our mooring
Marc’s friend, Caroline, flew in from the UK to spend the weekend so while they were catching up and doing their own thing, we elected to hire a car and explore more of the island. Alberto, our ever helpful host at Sunseeker Marina, organised for a car to be delivered to the boat for us on the Saturday morning making things extremely convenient. At 20 Euro per day for the hire, we were certainly more than happy with both the price and service. Sliding behind the steering wheel, Rob came to the realisation that he hadn’t driven since stepping out of a hire car at Gatwick Airport in London back in early July last year.  While over ten months out of the driver’s seat didn’t require him to be retrained, it was the longest period of not driving a car he’d ever had.

The locals kept an eye on us

How the lifted the stone to the top of this Talayot 3,300 years ago had us beat.
Heading out of Mahon our first stop was the outstanding remains of the pre-historic settlement of Talati de Dalt which dates back to around 1300 BC. This village housed around 100 people at that time in a mixture of natural and manmade caves arranged around a central sanctuary featuring one of a number of Talayots found on the island. These are huge stone monuments. It’s extremely difficult to comprehend how people cut, moved and erected these massive stone slabs almost three and a half thousand years ago.
A central stone pillar supports massive slabs of rock to form the roof
Indiana Jones eat your heart out
Equally impressive engineering was involved in how they constructed their cave dwellings. They excavated down into the ground and then stood large rock pillars up as supports. On these they then placed huge slabs of rocks covered over with soil to form the roof. We were able to enter and explore a number of these stone homes that have stood the test of time for thousands of years and we remain in awe of the people who constructed them.

This is the stern style end of the Naveta while the other is rounded like a boat's bow
The upper chamber held bones
From Talati de Dalt we drove across the island to another ancient site near the harbour town of Ciutadella. Here we examined a stone structure that resembled the upturned hull of a boat. A Naveta is a burial monument built with medium sized stones fitted together without mortar. This particular one had three distinct levels inside. A small doorway opens into a narrow corridor that leads to the upper chamber and a second door to the lower chamber where the deceased were placed.  Once a body decomposed the bones were moved to the higher levels making way for the next poor unfortunate to be added. The remains of over a hundred people were found in this Naveta when it was excavated by archaeologists in the 1950s.

All the fields were full of wild flowers including these poppies
Next stop was Ciutadella where we discovered another beautifully preserved town surrounding a fantastic, long, narrow harbour.  There was a large, well attended open air market being held in the town square so finding a park proved to be an interesting exercise until we elected to leave the car beside the harbour quite a few blocks from the town centre. We then enjoyed a pleasant walk in the sunshine back along the docks checking out all the moored boats.

We were captivated by the harbour at Ciutadella
Wandering the streets of Ciutadella
We spent about an hour wandering around the atmospheric streets and lanes of the old town before choosing a café for lunch with an appealing menu del dia on offer. Our meals were simply outstanding as was the excellent bottle of local Menorcan red wine which accompanied it.  Rob was driving so he limited his intake but Karen selflessly made the sacrifice of downing the lion’s share for a change.
The harbour entrance at Ciutadella

We were extremely impressed with Ciutadella and its small, picturesque and very well protected, harbour. A drive a little further afield through the areas surrounding the old town confirmed our first impressions.  With great cruising grounds close by in virtually every direction, a secure place to keep a yacht plus cheap villas and town houses with excellent sea views on virtually every corner, this vibrant little town would be a very attractive retirement option for any yachty.  Except us of course. Way too far away from the family unfortunately.

Cala Morrell typifies the natural beauty of Menorca
As Ciutadella disappeared in the rear vision mirror, we made our way a few kilometres further north to  Cala Morell. This small natural harbour is the site of fourteen ancient caves artificially excavated in the rock of a small gully to form the largest and most spectacular necropolis on Menorca. The caves were used as a cemetery from pre-historic times through to the second century AD.  Their interiors imitate the circular layout of the houses we saw at Talati de Dalt complete with columns  that have been carved around and left to support the ceilings. Walking through these architectural caves it’s impossible not to think about the people who carved them out of the solid rock with the most basic of tools thousands of years ago. It certainly brought memories of the The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum we visited on Malta last year.  You can read that story here. Malta

The ancient underground burial caves at Cala Morrell were impressive

The bay of Cala Morrell itself is incredibly beautiful and very well sheltered from wind and wave. We instantly regretted that we were not going to have the time to sail Alcheringa around to this part of the coast and spend a few days at anchor. If we do come back to Menorca in the future, this area will be firmly on the must visit list.

We would have loved to have anchored Alcheringa in Cala Morrell for a while
After a nice coffee in a café overlooking the bay we were back in our mighty Daewoo and on to our final stop of the day at Cala en Porte. Here we had arranged to meet up with Marc and Caroline to enjoy a few drinks and take in the sunset from the caves of Cova d’en Xeroni.  This succession of natural caves with openings through the cliffs are now occupied for by a bar and nightclub.  We’d seen photographs of the place but were still not prepared for just how dramatic a setting was waiting for us as we made our way down a path carved into the cliff face. Cova d’en Xeroni is simply breathtaking and well worth the 10 Euro admission fee. (Includes one complimentary drink at the bar)

Karen checks out the view and nightclub at Cova d'en Xeroni
What a spot - Cova d'en Xeroni
The night club only operates from 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights but we were able to wander through its various lounges set in different cave galleries for a look before being in the right place at the right time to score a front row, cliff side table in the open air bar area. Marc and Caroline arrived from Mahon by taxi and were suitably impressed with the grandstand seats we’d been lucky enough to secure for us all. We’ve enjoyed some outstanding locations for sundowner drinks since embarking on our cruising lifestyle but few can compare to being perched on the side of the cliff, hundreds of feet above the Mediterranean Sea. The four of us agreed, this was a truly unique experience.

Marc and Caroline enjoying our awesome sundowner drinks spot
The next day we headed off in the car to check out the north east corner of the island and in particular, Menorca’s third natural harbour at Fornells. The port is a bottle shape with the neck at the entrance opening out into a long wide bay. It is one of the few refuge spots on this section of coast and its strategic significance was recognised by the British during their rule of the island. They constructed the heavily reinforced Fornells Tower in 1801 to guard the entrance of the port. Rather than simply a watch tower, it is more like a small castle and would have been almost invincible in its day. It is now open to the public as a well presented museum . The township of Fornells stretches along the western shore of the bay and is now a popular tourist destination known for its many seafood restaurants.

The view from atop Fornells Tower
After wandering the town for a while we decided to resist the tempting fare on offer and return to Mahon in time to get our motorsport fix watching the television coverage of the Spanish Grand Prix at our favourite café-bar across the street from the boat. Being surrounded by Spaniards as we watched Fernando Alonso win his home Grand Prix in Barcelona provided a pretty cool atmosphere that’s for sure.

Caroline flew home to the UK that night after her all too short visit. Monday was then spent topping up provisions and getting everything ready to move on again.  It was almost time to finally wave goodbye to Spain. The following day we would be embarking on our longest non-stop passage on Alcheringa so far, sailing 240 nautical miles north east to Bonifacio on the French island of Corsica.

MARINA REVIEW: Sunseeker Mahon  ****

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 38.72 Euro (including VAT, water and power. WiFi was not provided but freely available in most of the restaurants and bars along the waterfront)

Note: This was a discounted shoulder season price applicable in May. From June 1 expect to pay about 30% more during summer IF a berth is available.

While not technically a Marina, Sunseeker administers a good number of berths located along the town wall well within this spectacular natural harbour providing100% protection from any weather. Facilities are limited with only two showers and toilet cubicles available but are clean and regularly serviced.  There are no washing facilities but a pick up and deliver back laundry service is available through the Sunseeker office. Sunseeker’s mariner/manager was extremely friendly and helpful in every regard as well as being a mine of local information.

We gave it four stars.

Our Sunseeker mooring on the town wall in Mahon was a fantastic location

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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.
We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.



  1. Dear Karen and Rob,
    You may recall I messaged you a couple of months ago saying that you were ahead of us by a year and that we were coming to Mallorca to look for a boat. Well after three weeks looking, here in Palma, in Port Mahon (where we must have missed you by about a week) and in Barcelona, we have finally found just what we are looking for back in Palma.
    You said you could recommend a surveyer and local legal person for conveyencing. I think they are called a Gestor. Would you be able to give me some contact details of people who were helpful to you.
    I very much enjoy your blog and in fact have started one of our own for our friends to follow.
    Best wishes,
    Terry Clarke

    1. Hi Terry, Great to hear you've found a boat. We've sent you an email with the details you've requested. Good luck with it all. We hope we end up in the same anchorage one day for sundowners. Cheers

  2. I've been enjoying your blog since Karen mentioned it on WWS the Med. Although these are old posts now, they are nice to read as we also sail a SO 43DS & have spent many years sailing these waters. I see you're starting to rate your marinas--good info, and I thank you for that.

    1. Glad you have been enjoying our blog. We had a great time sailing Alcheringa. She was a lovely boat for the Med and a great live aboard for us. Do you have a blog? We'd love to see pics of your DS. Cheers!


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